Dr. Lee Berger, an orthopedist with practices in North Bergen and Fair Lawn, recently invented a microchip that could change the way that medical records are kept in both hospitals and private practices around the country.
Called the “Ortho-Tag,” the small chip can be placed within surgical implants and is capable of transmitting information such as patient history, medication, and the make and model of the actual implant.
Developed in roughly four years at the University of Pittsburgh, the Ortho-Tag can transmit patient information. Existing under the skin, the tag is scanned by a “touch probe,” a reader that was developed with the help of Dr. Marlin Mickle, a professor at the school.
“Right before we close the skin we attach [the tag],” said Berger. “This can be put on any manufacturer’s implant.”
Once the skin is closed, doctors can read patient information stored within the Ortho-Tag.
“If somebody comes to me from California or from anywhere in the country,” said Berger, “most of them don’t know the manufacturer or the sizes [of the implant].”
Berger added that many doctors do not keep surgical records, expecting instead for them to be stored in hospital record rooms. According to Berger, however, hospitals only store this information for seven years.
“They will never get that information again unless they had it electronically saved,” added Berger, who hopes that the Ortho-Tag will be integral in streamlining the change from physical to electronic records.
Berger also mentioned that whenever a doctor sees a patient with an Ortho-Tag, they could continue to add information to the chip’s memory. With this procedure, the chip could conceivably create a running log of information from all doctors that a patient visits.
Is it safe?
The Ortho-Tag has associated with it a number of safety concerns. Among them, of course, is the idea of having a chip stored under a patient’s skin.
“It’s pretty superficial,” said Berger, adding that the amount of signal generated from the chip is less than that of a cell phone.
“The tag doesn’t have a battery in it,” he added. “It’s almost like a mirror. It doesn’t have anything that can harm anyone.”
According to Berger, most of the information gathering is accomplished through the touch probe, which sends a signal to the Ortho-Tag.
“It’s what’s called a passive tag,” said Berger. “All of the energy and all of the information-gathering is [done] through the touch probe.”
Concerns were raised that the Ortho-Tag could potentially be scanned by anyone in the nearby area, which would pose a privacy issue. This process would be similar to RFID technology, which allows devices such as cell phones to scan and interpret data via radio waves.
But Berger said, “You have to actually touch the patient’s skin with the touch probe, which uses the conductivity of the skin to transmit the signal of the Ortho-Tag.”
Berger also mentioned that the each patient’s tag will have its own password.
“The patient is the only one that has the pass code,” continued Berger. “It’s all encrypted, so it’s very secure.”
What the future holds
With the Ortho-Tag fully functional, the next step is to apply for FDA approval.
“We have it all developed, and we know it works,” said Berger. “We’ve developed the prototypes and everything in the laboratory.”
Berger’s future plans include creating an Ortho-Tag card for patients with existing implants that have already undergone surgery.
“It looks like a credit card, but it has the Ortho-Tag embedded in it,” said Berger. “It’s the same technology – you have to touch the card with the probe and we could give them all the medical information they want.”
Cards could simply be stored in patient’s wallets.
Berger said his other plans include developing applications for the iPhone and iPad that could transform the device into a touch probe.
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.